How I Became a Fighter Pilot

As a youngster living in New York City I will always remember building small model airplanes. I would buy the small balsa-wood kits and follow the instructions carefully, gluing the pieces together. Then I would cover the model with delicate tissue paper and paint it over with dope so that it would dry and tighten the skin. Then came the paint, propeller, wings, body and when it was all assembled, I was ready to take off into the air and do battle and dog fight. Going back in time, these were World War I fighter airplanes ready to shoot down the German enemy.

So, at the age of 12, I was going to be a fighter pilot and fly fighter airplanes. In the meantime, while I went to school Hitler was making all kinds of hell in Europe and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I remember that day exactly because I was playing sandlot football and a kid came by on his bicycle and yelled, “Someone bombed Pearl Harbor”. We all looked at each other and asked, "Where is that?" Someone said, “That's some place in the Pacific.”

At age 17, I joined the Civil Air Patrol as an Observer and Air Spotter. My duties were to go out to an observation post and phone in any aircraft flying in my area. “Aircraft, low at 220 degrees, at 15 miles going South at 150 miles per hour.” We were armed with binoculars, phones and an armband that said 'OBSERVER'. We worked different shifts, all hours. This was my first taste of war, 17 years old.

As soon as I turned 18, I went to the Army Recruiting Station at Grand Central Station in New York City. Here I took my first exam for Pilot's Training and passed it. Then came the physical exam, which I also passed. After being sworn into the Army I was told to go home and wait for a class assignment. I recall two vivid moments of the physical and written exams. After taking our written exam the instructor called out the names of those that finished to the right side of the room and others to the left side of the room. There must have been a hundred on one side and another hundred on my side. The other side flunked the exam and my side had passed it. We were going to be “Pilots”.

During the physical exam, the Medical Officer told me in good order he would have to turn me down because of a crooked “eye” tooth. He explained why he could not pass me. Then I pleaded and begged him to let me pass. He must have taken pity and said: “Ok”. To this day I'll never know where I got the courage or the will to talk to the Doctor and persuade him to pass me.

After being sworn into the Army I was put into the Enlisted Reserve until I was called to Active Duty in January 1943. My letter of instruction was to report to Pennsylvania Station for a quick ride to Atlantic City.